Google is not getting lost in translation
It was not a very subtle April Fool but it made a fine point. A Christian website posted a story saying Google had updated its translation software for believers so anyone “speaking in tongues” could have a translation done in the language of their choice.
Google Translate has become second nature for many people in France if they are not fluent and need a quick understanding of what a document says. Now the web giant is pushing it to work with speech.
It has not, yet, moved into the supernatural but its smartphones now offer on-the-fly translations of some languages plus text in photos. Google software translates 140 billion words every day.
Last year Google said it had “eradicated 80% of the errors made by its translation software” and by last month work using artificial intelligence and neural networks had allowed it to cut errors in English-to-French and English-to-German translations by 60% compared to its phrase-based system.
Rethinking its translation systems means Google no longer transcribes speech and then translates word by word or phrase by phrase – instead, it uses human brain-like neural networks to replicate the brain’s efficiency matching words, phrases, context and sense to produce a better translation.
Researchers at Google Brain, the deep learning research unit, prepared hundreds of hours of spoken Spanish and the equivalent in English text and used them with its neural network for the translation.
However, the network’s artificial intelligence created its own universal ‘language’ to translate... so, Google’s Neural Machine Translation system created its own language.
Rather than program computers to understand the text the way humans do, Google let the neural network come up with its own way of doing it.
Helped by the brilliantly named Parsey McParseface modelling software, which analyses English for patterns, the developments are already in use in Google Translate.
However, it is not perfect and Google recently got into hot water after its Ukrainian version translated the words ‘Russian Federation’ as ‘Mordor’.
Google said on its blog it started Translate 10 years ago “to break language barriers and to make the world more accessible” and a celebration event last year in the European Parliament showed how Google Translate works.
It featured Scottish musicians Donnie Munro and Trail West performing a melancholic love song in Scots Gaelic, which was translated into English on Google Translate for the audience of MEPs and their staff, and parliament translators.
Google policy director Lie Junius said: “Translate cannot replace the essential work done by the professional translators in the European Parliament.
“But we do think it can be a tool that can help people understand each other, especially at the most difficult of times. This was demonstrated by stories of British families opening up their homes to refugees, using Translate to start their conversations with them.”
Cortana in Windows 10 is also improving its translations, which is benefiting Microsoft-owned Skype, which has had live speech-to-text translation since 2014 and now has all the European languages plus Mandarin and Arabic.